The Newest: US Chopper Flies 21 Germans to Kabul Airport | World Information

WASHINGTON — Germany’s top military commander says 21 German citizens were picked up during an overnight helicopter mission in Afghanistan that was flown by U.S. forces.

Gen. Eberhard Zorn said Wednesday that U.S. troops flew the helicopter and German forces picked up the evacuees.

The Pentagon acknowledged that there was a U.S. military helicopter flight into Kabul overnight to gather evacuees and take them to the airport to be flown out of the country. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby and Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said this was the third such helicopter rescue flight done by the military during the ongoing evacuation. They declined to say who the passengers were or provide any other details.

The U.S. and other nations are under increasing pressure to get people out before the Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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U.S. officials have said there have been ongoing efforts to collect Americans, at-risk Afghans and other NATO or allied individuals from Kabul and get them through the chaotic perimeter into the airport. They won’t say how these rescues are being done, but say the helicopter missions have been rare.

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MILAN — The Italian official organizing the air bridge from Kabul says the possibility of an attack by the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan against the Kabul airport “is a real threat that we take very seriously.”

Stefano Portocorvo, NATO’s civil representative in Afghanistan, told private Italian TV Sky24 that the IS risk in Kabul has always been great. He added that “the Taliban does not have the numbers to take the city, but they have control close to the airport.”

ISTANBUL — Turkey has begun to evacuate its troops from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years in the country.

The Defense Ministry made the announcement Wednesday.

“The Turkish Armed Forces are returning to our homeland with the pride of successfully fulfilling this task entrusted to them,” the ministry said in a statement. “The current situation and conditions were evaluated and the evacuation of TAF elements has started.”

Turkish soldiers have been helping evacuate people from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul since the Taliban took the city more than a week ago. The ministry said Turkish military aircraft evacuated 1,129 people.

Prior to the Taliban taking Kabul, NATO member Turkey had offered to secure and operate the airport following the U.S. withdrawal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted: “Turkey will continue to work for the peace, security and prosperity of our Afghan brothers and sisters.”

MILAN — Italian military planes have transported nearly 1,000 Afghans out of Kabul in the last 24 hours, bringing to 4,400 the number of Afghan nationals who worked with Italian institutions and charities flown to safety. The Defense Ministry made the announcement Wednesday.

A total of 3,959 Afghans have been flown onward to Rome during the air bridge, comprised of 63 flights since June.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says it will continue to evacuate people from Afghanistan until the U.S. leaves next Tuesday, but during the final days it will need to prioritize getting U.S. troops and military equipment out of the country.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday the military will preserve as much military capacity at the Kabul airport as possible to continue the evacuation in the coming days. He said if evacuees need to get out, the military will “continue to evacuate needed populations all the way to the end.” He added that in the final days and hours there will have to be a balance as the 5,400 troops in Kabul and critical systems also get on aircraft to leave.

Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said flights were leaving the Kabul airport every 39 minutes over the last 24 hours, getting about 19,000 evacuees out. He also said the U.S. will maintain security at the airport until the end.

“We will have that ability to secure ourselves throughout multiple means to ensure flights are able to take off,” Taylor said.

Kirby and Taylor said that there was a helicopter flight into Kabul overnight to gather evacuees and take them to the airport. They said there were fewer than 20 people on the flight, but would not say if they were Americans or Afghans or others. They said this is just the third such helicopter flight done by the military during the evacuation.

MEXICO CITY — Mexico has welcomed a group of 124 Afghan media workers and their families after the group fled their country because of the Taliban takeover.

The group arrived Wednesday aboard a Qatar Emiri Air Force flight to Mexico City in the pre-dawn hours. The Foreign Relations Department said the Afghans had worked for “various media outlets” and had requested humanitarian visas because of the Taliban’s hostility toward journalists.

The New York Times reported that a group of its journalists had been taken in by Mexico and arrived Wednesday.

Mexico accepted its first group of refugees from Afghanistan on Tuesday, when five women and one man arrived in Mexico City.

The young women, who had to travel through six countries to reach Mexico, have competed in robotics competitions. They fled Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country earlier this month. The Taliban have been hostile to women working or going to school after a certain age.

TOKYO — Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says Japan plans to prioritize the safe evacuation of Japanese citizens and embassy staff out of Afghanistan using Self-Defense Force aircraft.

He also said Wednesday that Japan will closely cooperate with Group of Seven leading industrial nations and other countries “to stop Afghanistan from becoming the hotbed of terrorism again, to avoid an ongoing humanitarian crisis there and to protect the rights of women.”

Stability and recovery of the geopolitically important country “is in Japan’s strong national interest,” he said.

Japan, starting Monday, sent three Self-Defense Force transport aircraft — a C-2 and two C-130s — to evacuate Japanese nationals and local staff who worked for the embassy and Japanese development agencies.

Asked if Tokyo is willing to accept refugees from Afghanistan, Suga did not give a clear answer, saying only: “Japan will cooperate with other involved nations while paying attention to the situation each country faces.”

MOSCOW — The Russian Defense Ministry says four planes sent to evacuate more than 500 people from Afghanistan have taken off from Kabul and are en route to Russia.

The Defense Ministry said Wednesday the planes would carry the nationals of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine from Kabul. The flights marked the first such airlift for Russia since evacuations from Kabul began.

Teams of medical workers are present on each plane to provide assistance to the evacuees if necessary.

The evacuations will be carried out upon orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Separately, a representative of the Afghan community in Russia said Wednesday the Russian Embassy in Kabul has allowed more than 1,000 Afghan citizens to come to Russia once the Kabul airport reopens for regular flights. The Interfax news agency quoted Ghulam Mohammad Jalal as saying they include Afghan citizens of Russian origin, Afghan students studying in Russian universities and those who hold Russian residence or work permits.

ROME — The World Food Program says more than half a million Afghans are displaced inside the country’s borders after they sought to escape conflict — and many of them need food aid.

The U.N. organization with a 450-person team has managed to distribute food to some of those in need as much of the world’s attention focuses on Kabul’s airport and the frantic bid by countless Afghans to flee their country.

The agency’s deputy country director for Afghanistan, Andrew Patterson, said in Kabul on Wednesday that all four main border crossings that it uses to transport food remain open “and goods are flowing through.”

But Patterson worries about the possibility that international funding will be frozen, including for the WFP humanitarian operation, in the wake of the Taliban taking power.That, he said, would “precipitate catastrophe” for Afghanistan’s people.

Last week, Patterson in separate comments had noted that closure of banks in the country complicated the ability to distribute cash to purchase food locally for those at risk of going hungry.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch defense ministry says that two evacuation flights have landed Wednesday in Amsterdam carrying a total of 299 people.

The ministry says that among the arrivals were 54 Dutch nationals. It has not given details of the nationalities of the other evacuees.

The Dutch government has conducted 16 evacuation flights out of Kabul to countries in the Afghanistan region. Nine flights have brought evacuees to the Netherlands.

STOCKHOLM — Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde says that another 227 people have been evacuated from Kabul, adding they were citizens of the Scandinavian country, people with permanent residency permits and local hires.

She made the announcement Wednesday. A total of 771 persons have been evacuated to Sweden from Afghanistan.

PARIS — A French government spokesperson says France will continue its evacuation operation in Kabul “as long as possible” ahead of American Aug. 31 withdrawal date.

Gabriel Attal on Wednesday did not provide a date for the end of the French operation, saying only “we will likely need to anticipate a few hours, maybe a few days ahead” of the American forces’ departure from Kabul airport.

“We will continue as long as possible,” he said. “Due to extreme tension on the ground … and the scheduled departure of American forces, these evacuations are a true race against time.”

Attal declined to elaborate on how many people are still waiting for evacuation by France in Kabul.

A 10th flight carrying evacuees landed in Paris on Wednesday, with 21 French and 220 Afghan nationals, including 130 children onboard, according to the French Office of Immigration and Integration.

In total, at least 1,720 Afghans and a hundred French people have been evacuated by France since the beginning of the operation last week.

French President Emmanuel Macron promised France would evacuate Afghans who worked for the country as well as activists and others under threat.

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping have discussed the situation in Afghanistan in a phone call.

The Kremlin said the two leaders on Wednesday expressed readiness to boost up efforts to counterterrorist threats and drug trafficking from Afghanistan.

They emphasized the importance of securing a peace settlement in the country and preventing the spread of instability to neighboring countries. Putin and Xi agreed to actively use the potential of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security pact dominated by Russia and China that also includes the ex-Soviet Central Asian countries, according to the Kremlin.

Chinese state media reported that Xi emphasized that Beijing pursues a policy of non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, and is willing to strengthen communication and coordination with all parties in the international community, including Russia.

BERLIN — Germany’s foreign ministry says it believes that more than 200 citizens of the country are still in Afghanistan.

Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said Wednesday that the figure is higher than that previously given in part “because people are continuing to report to us.”

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had said Tuesday that about 100 Germans and their families were still on the ground, and Burger acknowledged that there was “a certain fuzziness” about the figure because some of the relatives are also German citizens.

Burger said that 540 Germans have been flown out so far. In all, more than 4,600 people have been flown out of Kabul on flights operated by the German military.

It isn’t clear when Germany’s evacuation effort will end. Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament on Wednesday that it will continue “as long as possible.”

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary will soon cease its evacuation operations in Afghanistan after the country extracted more than 500 people from Kabul in recent days, the country’s foreign minister told a news conference Wednesday.

The exact timing of the end of rescue operations will be announced by the commander of the Hungarian Army, “which could happen today,” Peter Szijjarto said.

Hungary transported more than 500 evacuees at the request of its allies, including the United States and Austria, Szijjarto said, as well as Afghan citizens and their families who assisted Hungarian military forces in Afghanistan.

Hungary is only willing to accommodate those Afghan asylum seekers that assisted Hungary, Szijjarto said. He urged Hungary’s allies to ensure the safety of Afghans who are in danger after assisting NATO operations in Afghanistan.

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria says it will grant asylum to some 70 Afghan citizens and their families.

The country’s caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev told reporters on Wednesday that the Afghan nationals have previously worked at the Bulgarian Embassy in Kabul or within the Bulgarian military missions in Afghanistan.

He did not elaborate about the timing and the route of the evacuation.

“Their evacuation from Afghanistan will be a challenge, but with the arrangements in place I hope that we will be successful,” Yanev said.

Bulgaria, a member of the European Union and NATO, has already announced that it is going to shelter Afghans who worked for the Balkan country.

But it is hesitant to invite larger groups of refugees, saying that all temporary accommodation centers are already overcrowded with migrants from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

Bulgaria was used as a transit route for hundreds of thousands of migrants on their way to western Europe during the height of the migrant crisis. Since then, Bulgaria erected a razor-wire fence along most of its 269-kilometer (167-mile) border with Turkey and has pledged to deploy hundreds of army troops to support border police.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Protesters have burned car tires outside a military base in the central Netherlands where Afghans are being housed after being evacuated from Kabul.

Police dog handlers broke up the demonstration Tuesday night outside the base in the village of Harskamp, 85 kilometers (52 miles) east of Amsterdam.

A police spokeswoman said Wednesday that officers did not arrest or hand on-the-spot fines to anybody at the demonstration Tuesday night.

Hundreds of Afghans have arrived in the Netherlands in recent days after being flown out of Kabul. They are being housed in three military bases.

The base in Harskamp can house 800 evacuees.

BEIJING — China says it has established an “open and effective communication and consultation with the Afghan Taliban,” following a meeting between representatives of the group and Beijing’s ambassador to Kabul.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin gave no details about the Tuesday meeting between the deputy head of the Taliban’s political office, Abdul Salam Hanafi and Ambassador Wang Yu.

But he said China considered Kabul to be an “important platform and channel for both sides to discuss important matters of all kinds.”

China hosted a delegation led by senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar for talks last month, prior to the group’s lightning sweep to power in Kabul.

China has kept its embassy in the city open and says it has no plans for a wholesale evacuation of its citizens in Afghanistan, while relentlessly criticizing the U.S. over the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport.

“We have always respected Afghanistan’s sovereign independence and territorial integrity, pursued a policy of non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs and adhered to a policy of friendship toward the entire Afghan people,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing Wednesday in Beijing.

“China respects the Afghan people’s independent decision on their own future and destiny, supports the implementation of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned principle, and stands ready to continue to develop good-neighborly relations of friendship and cooperation with Afghanistan and play a constructive role in the peace and reconstruction of the country,” Wang said.

VILNIUS, Lithuania — A plane carrying the first group of Afghan interpreters who had worked with Lithuanian forces in Afghanistan has touched down in the Baltic country.

The Defense Ministry said Wednesday that a total of 50 people were flown from Kabul via Warsaw, Poland.

They are the first of 115 interpreters who worked with Lithuanian forces in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2013, and Lithuania plans to bring all of them out of the country. The second group is expected to land in Vilnius later in the day.

Meanwhile in Norway, two planes from Afghanistan with a total of 278 passengers landed in Oslo, Norwegian news agency NTB reported.

LONDON — Britain’s foreign minister says he can’t give a precise timeline about the end of U.K. evacuation flights from Afghanistan, but the mission will be over by Aug. 31.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said “it’s clear that the troops will be withdrawn by the end of the month.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has rejected pressure from Britain and other allies to extend the evacuation operation, saying it will end on Aug. 31. There are almost 6,000 American troops at the airport helping people flee the Taliban, along with smaller military contingents from other countries.

Raab said the British military will need time before the deadline to withdraw its people and equipment, but “we will make the maximum use of all the time we have left.”

He said British forces have airlifted 9,000 British citizens and at-risk Afghans from Kabul airport since the Taliban took the Afghan capital on Aug. 15.

MOSCOW — Russia is preparing to evacuate more than 500 people on four military planes from Afghanistan — its first airlift operation since evacuations from Kabul began.

The Defense Ministry said Wednesday that it will airlift the nationals of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine from Kabul.

Teams of medical workers will be present on each plane, the ministry said, should any of the evacuees require medical attention.

The evacuations will be carried out upon orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the ministry noted.

KAMPALA, Uganda — Uganda’s government says 51 people evacuated from Afghanistan have arrived in the East African country at the request of the United States.

Authorities said in a statement that the group, transported to Uganda in a chartered flight, arrived early Wednesday. That statement said they included men, women and children. No more details were given on the identities of the evacuees.

Ugandan officials said last week the country will shelter up to 2,000 people fleeing the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. They said the Afghans would be brought to Uganda in small groups in a temporary arrangement before they are relocated elsewhere.

Uganda has long been a security ally of the U.S., especially on security matters in the region.

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia says it has helped evacuate 955 people in five flights from Kabul’s airport overnight as the danger in Afghanistan increased.

Defense Minister Peter Dutton on Wednesday thanked U.S., British and New Zealand defense forces for their help in evacuating 2,650 people including Afghan nationals from the airport since Wednesday last week.

Tuesday was Australia’s most successful day in evacuating people including Afghans who had worked for the Australian government.

“There is more work to be done but, of course, we know the security threats on the ground continue to increase,” Dutton told Parliament.

The government would take the advice of the Australian Defense Force Chief Gen. Angus Campbell “as to how long it is possible for us to stay in country to keep our own people safe and help those that have helped us,” Dutton added.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment on reports that up to 1,200 Afghans with Australian visas had been turned away from the airport.

Dutton said Australia has resettled 8,500 Afghans who helped Australia in the past five years.

SEOUL, South Korea __ Seoul says about 380 people evacuated from Afghanistan will arrive in South Korea aboard military planes on Thursday.

Choi Jongmoon, second vice foreign minister, told a briefing Wednesday that the Afghans are those who had worked for South Korea-run facilities in Afghanistan including its embassy or their family members.

Choi says the government has decided to bring them to South Korea in consideration of “an ethical responsibility for our (Afghan) colleagues” and a responsibility as a member of the international community.

He says the Afghans will be sent to a government-run temporary accommodation facility upon their arrival in South Korea on Thursday.

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